In this interview with News Gazette, the general manager, corporate affairs of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Yakubu Dati says, inter alia that despite budgetary constraints to get the perishable cargo airports on track, the aviation sector has got enough support to grow and turn Nigeria into an enviable hub on the continent of Africa
What are the stages of completion of work at the terminals built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation Ltd (CCECC) at the Abuja, Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt airports?
Well, the work is ongoing and for most people who have been opportune to go round, work has reached advanced stages. At the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, most of the outer infrastructure, that is, the outer shell has been completed. The terminal at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja is also nearing completion. And that particular project is a very interesting one because it connects to the rail. The infrastructure connecting the terminal building to the railway terminal has been built. Those (terminals) at the Kano and Port Harcourt airports have also reached advanced stages of completion. We believe that with the assurance given by CCECC, they will deliver them (projects) by the end of the year.
The terminals were originally billed to be completed and delivered on and delivery in the first quarter of 2016 but deferred to the last quarter. How feasible is the new date?
The most important thing is that the job is ongoing; our consultants are giving us the feedback. And members of the public who use the airports see that work is ongoing. Fortunately, the projects are tangible ones so people can assess their levels of completion.
Cargo terminals were to be built at some designated airports but not much has been heard about them. Has work on them been put on hold?
The projects are also ongoing but as you are aware, there is budgetary constraint. However, as soon as that is sorted out they will be back. Again, you know the ongoing discussion on concession; it is a total package and the cargo airport is a policy issue. But don’t forget that airlines have started cargo operations at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. That has opened up the eastern part of the country to international cargo traffic. And we believe subsequently it will spread round other airports of the country. And for us, we see a connection between airlift of agriculture produce because most of the cargoes will create avenues for farm produce to be transported to the global market where there is a high demand for them (farm) produce.
Many a stakeholder in the aviation industry is of the view that since the minister of state for aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika assumed office there has been neither movement nor motion in the sector. What are your thoughts on the assertion?
As you are aware, the aviation sector is full of people who believe that they know what to do. There has never been a time when a new minister of aviation will be appointed and you won’t have the “experts” giving the minister a task. Here we have a minister who has come with a clear aviation roadmap and how he wants to achieve his plans and also give direction. And he called the stakeholders, sold that roadmap and gradually we are getting a buy-in. So, before you can achieve, you must have a vision.
The minister has a clear vision for this sector and I will call on the stakeholders to giver support. He has also taken steps to interact with people. Recall that he has used Lagos and Abuja to interact with labour, airline operators, aviation fuel marketers, and the media. He is somebody that even though he is in the system he also believes in taking the aviation roadmap to different stakeholders in order to get the sector going. We believe that gradually, we are getting the support that will move the sector to a greater height.
I believe the minister has done excellently well. For once, if you consider the fact that right now the minster has successfully led international campaign for the re-election of Nigeria’s Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu as the president of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council. He has visited a number of countries in the process. So that really shows that we have a minister who has a full grasp of the aviation sector.
Secondly, he is also doing what the president has said, that is thinking out of the box. As you are aware, he is also looking into the issue of having a national carrier as well as building a maintenance- repair organisation (MRO). Don’t also forget the issue of building an aviation university that will not only serve Nigeria but also the African continent. And you will recall that recently, the United Nations has shown interest in building two aviation institutions in Nigeria. These are some of the steps the minister has taken to take the aviation industry to an enviable level. As we speak, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos is the fourth busiest airport in Africa. That, in itself, is an enviable position. We have a large population that loves to travel; we are centrally located in the world. So Nigeria has all it takes to be the hub and the establishment of a national carrier and building an MRO will come together to make Nigeria take its rightful place in global aviation.